By Cynthia Richie Terrell on April 15, 2016
I am very glad to be darting around the Bay Area this week connecting with all sorts of women's representation enthusiasts - meetings include mayor of Oakland Libby Schaaf, elected with ranked choice voting, Joan Blades of Moms Rising & Living Room Conversations, Betsy McKinney from It's Time Network, Alan Davis, Steve Silberstein and others too! Very sorry to miss Claire Moshenberg from the Gender Avenger team, and Betsy Cotton from Close the Gap CA that focuses their considerable talent on winning gender parity in the California legislature!
NPR did a story this week on Where Women Have the Most and the Least Political Representation in the U.S.. The headline is misleading because the story is really only about women's representation in state legislatures - if you factor in women's representation at the local, state legislative, statewide, and federal level - as Representation2020 has done in its Gender Parity Index - different states emerge as winners and losers. New Hampshire ranks first, the only state to rank above parity, while Mississippi ranks last.
The story contrasts top-ranked Colorado (ranked 17 on Rep2020's Parity Index) - where women are 42 percent of the state legislature - and Wyoming (ranked 26 on Rep2020's Parity Index) where women makeup 13 percent of the legislature. The NPR story confirms Representation2020's analysis that voting systems impact electoral outcomes for women:
"The Wyoming Legislature wasn't always so lopsided. Back in the mid-1980s, a quarter of the state's legislators were women — among the highest nationwide at the time. The Equality State was living up to its name as a place where women could make a mark on politics.
'There were enough women that it wasn't — you weren't an oddity, you didn't feel like an oddity; it was just a very comfortable working situation,' said Margaret Brown, who served in Wyoming's Legislature from 1983 to 1987.
Since then, the number of women in the Wyoming Legislature has steadily dropped.
In the 1990s, Wyoming shifted from multimember to single-member districts, which Brown believes was detrimental. Under the old system, voters could pick multiple candidates to represent a larger electoral district."
Representation2020 expects to have a module on voting systems and their impact on women's representation on its revamped website in the near future. Voting system reform is an essential component of the toolkit for winning parity - along with recruitment targets for political parties, PACs, & donors, and internal legislative measures that level the playing field. I welcome advice as to how to present and frame these institutional changes effectively.
A Milwaukee Public Radio story featured the very successful Emerge Wisconsin which has trained many women who have run for office successfully.
Women's Health ran a story on Erin Schrode - who, at 24, could become the youngest member of Congress.
Don't forget to tune into To the Contrary on PBS for a great lineup of panels on a full range of great topics related to women's issues.
President Obama proclaimed the Sewell Belmont House the Belmont Paul Women's Equality National Monument this week - listen to the president's remarks at the event.
My initial push to name a U.S. airport Eleanor Roosevelt Airport - or ERA - was not successful but the fact that there are no airports named for women proves to be a very good conversation topic - here is a quick review of all the other places not named after women in the United States.
Thanks for all of the great work being done to win parity - the times are certainly ripe for change,
P.S. I am a big fan of the Economic Dividends for Gender Equality campaign - they provide a terrific approach for holding institutions accountable for progress on gender parity. Representation2020 is working with Center for Responsive Politics and the Common Cause Education Fund to design a similar campaign to pressure PACs and donors to embrace targets for the number of women candidates they support.